Biomass Thermal Could Ease Winter Heating Burden

The EIA predicts it will cost more to heat our homes this year than the previous year, and for households using heating oil, expenditures will be higher than in any previous winter. This could be a great opportunity for biomass thermal.
By Rona Johnson | October 21, 2011

The Energy Information Administration predicts it will cost more for most of us to heat our homes this year than the previous year, and for households using heating oil, expenditures will be higher than in any previous winter. This could be a great opportunity for biomass thermal and wood pellets in particular, to increase its market share.

In its Short-Term Energy and Winter Fuels Outlook, the agency projects that on average households heating with natural gas can expect to pay $19 (3 percent) more this winter than last, and households that use heating oil will spend about $193 (8 percent) more this winter (October 1 to March 31) Propane prices are expected to increase as well, but the increase will vary by region. The Midwest can expect an average increase of 4 percent in prices, while prices in the Northeast could be 9 percent higher.

The only bright spot in the report was that households heating with electricity can expect lower bills this winter, and on average could be spending $6 (1 percent) less than the previous winter.

The agency is also forecasting a slightly milder winter compared with last year in the Northeast, South and Midwest, but as we all know weather forecasts are fickle. Being a long-time resident of North Dakota, I always expect the worst when it comes to winter weather and I’m rarely disappointed.

According to the EIA, there is a 34 percent chance that the January contract month wholesale heating oil price will be more than $3 per gallon, and a less than 10 percent chance that it will be more than $3.50 per gallon.

Although the report doesn’t mention biomass heating, Maine Energy Systems offers wood pellet heating at a price that’s equivalent to $1.99 per gallon of fuel oil and it’s guaranteed for three years.

Of course, there is the up-front cost of buying and installing a pellet heating system, which needs to be addressed.     

As luck would have it, the Northeast Thermal Working Group is holding a Biomass Thermal DC Summit on Nov. 16 in Washington, D.C. The summit will focus on the benefits of biomass heat, including job creation, rural economic development and energy independence from foreign fossil fuels.  

The summit is particularly important when you look at the projected increase in heating oil prices this winter and how that will impact the Northeast. As the EIA points out in its report, while only about 6 percent of U.S. households rely on heating oil, the Northeast accounts for about 80 percent of these households.

The projected increase in heating expenditures prompted 33 Senators, led by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, to write a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, asking her to release Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funds as quickly and at as high a level as possible.

This means that our lawmakers are aware of the issue, and they may be looking for solutions, besides spending more on the LIHEAP.

It might be the perfect time to press for a national program that provides funding for households to switch from heating oil to biomass fuel. A program like this would not only ease heating costs for households but also create jobs for those supplying the biomass and manufacturing and installing biomass heating systems.

If you are interested in attending the Biomass Thermal DC Summit, go to

And, if you are interested in biomass-based energy in general, don’t forget about BBI International’s Southeast Biomass Conference & Expo being held Nov. 1-3 in Atlanta, Ga. The event will feature general sessions on the growth of the pellet industry in the Southeast and the U.S. military’s interest in biomass-based energy.

For more information on that conference, visit